From: Gail Read [email@example.com]
Sent: April 12, 1998 3:51 PM
I believe that God has shown me something that may help all of us who feel discouraged about our church.
A month ago I made a commitment to co-lead a workshop on the "Reconciling and Making New Document." My co-leader, Mary, is our presbytery representative and thinks from a liberal theological perspective. The hope was that between the two of us we would allow for the diversity of faith in our own congregation. I was nervous about this commitment, fearing we would get into arguments over theology but felt God's assurance that this was His plan for me.
Our first planning meeting went very well; as both of us were determined to be considerate of one another and respectful of the other's beliefs. We agree that we were not going to use the document for feedback to the national office, but instead we would offer it to those in our congregation who wanted to seriously look at who Jesus Christ is for them and help them to articulate that. We quickly delegated different chapters and agreed to meet the following week. That night I could not sleep. I kept thinking of the material I had read. My mind tumbled with confused messages and distorted images of Jesus. I felt fear that we were exposing --some very vulnerable people to a tumult of ideas that I found difficult to disseminate myself. I felt anger at what appeared to be a hidden agenda behind the material and the obvious boxing in of those who think in an orthodox way. (In the last chapter, different approaches to the saving grace of Jesus Christ are given labels such as "exclusive", and "inclusive" etc.) I felt hopelessness for our United Church--which we seemed so confused in our faith.
I know I was crying and praying at the same time--I'm not sure for how long, but finally I went to sleep after begging God to give me wisdom. The next day a phrase popped into my head in French-- (I failed French every year in high school!) I can't even spell it out in French--the phrase is: Fill the holes! This comes from a course I took years ago in Journalism. It suggested that if you were looking for things to write about you should look for the holes and then fill them.
God showed me how this related to my prayer request. Instead of concentrating on the holes in the Reconciling Document, I should FILL THEM! Instead of judging the motivation behind those who wrote the document, and feeling the need to argue with them and challenge them, I should not be surprised that the holes are there and I should thank God that I know what is missing and how to fill them.
I can't tell you how I felt in my spirit when I understood this. It was wonderful! I felt joy and excitement. I sat down right away with the document and began to fill the holes. What a tremendous release of creativity.
Everywhere I was reminded of Scripture verses, which could fill the holes. They do not lead to argument; instead they fleshed out who Jesus Christ is. For example, there is a chapter on the different theories of the saving activity of Jesus. I had been angry that they called them theories the day before. But now I didn't even need to challenge this; instead I found scripture from the Old Testament that would help those studying to see that these metaphors of God's saving grace have been around for centuries and would have been understood by those first century Christians. When I got to the final chapter, I had the idea of retyping all the statements that have been put into labeled categories such as "exclusive and inclusive" and turning them into a questionnaire where each statement could be responded to by: agree or disagree. This process will help all of us realize what we believe and then we can honestly deal with the questions of how to be faithful in sharing this in a pluralist world.
I believe this approach of FILLING THE HOLES can be used in many areas. It is not a judgment because we will all see different holes. By God's power and grace, we can fill them. It gives us a focus away from discouragement and bitterness.
Could this be a vision for all of us who long for renewal in our United Church? What do you think?
While praying at the last Fellowship Magazine Board meeting for the United Church an image came to my mind that is similar. I saw a huge tree in the middle of a desert. It was green and lush because its roots went down deep to an underground river. People were crawling across the desert to get to the shade of the tree. I believe we, if we are rooted deeply in Jesus Christ, can be this tree for many that are seeking God's face in the United Church.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I have sent this to
as a BCC (blind copy) so you don't have to have a list at the beginning
of your e-mail. But if you reply to all it will go back to all of them
as well as me. Let's brainstorm.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Carole Burton)
Subject: Filling holes
Date: Sat, 14 Mar 1998 17:37:05 -0800
Gail's "Fill the Holes" is so right- if we ONLY point out the holes, we won't make the UC one iota better. We must offer something in place of the holes- fill the holes with God's truth - PLUS his love for these people. (His truth ALONE won't fill the holes- truth without any love. One active in UC renewal claims to be PROUD of having hated a UC official for 10 years! Easy to see how that can happen- but with that, we are not only as bad as they are, but far worse- since we claim to know Jesus Christ in a personal way. He IS able to give us grace to have a right heart- no matter how evil others may be toward us. Else what is the Gospel?)
But to "fill the holes" doesn't mean we don't ever POINT OUT the holes, does it? How would we know any holes exist, in order to fill them? Maybe it means we stop REJOICING in pointing out the holes? (As in I Cor.13 - Agape love doesn't REJOICE in the wrong. Like a man in UC Observer a few years back, re. the Jesus People movement in Ont.- his daughter was very much into it, and he said what disturbed him wasn't so much that she told him he was going to hell - but that she seemed HAPPY about it! I guess whenever we REJOICE over the mess in UC, rather than GRIEVE as our Lord surely must- then we are as wrong as the UC hierarchy?)
I heard Morley Clarke say once that we in renewal in UC are to KINDLE A LIGHT, not fight the darkness. We are to concentrate on building strong, loving Christian communities- SHOW how it is done. (And if we CAN'T do it, why are we saying ANYTHING about the mess in the UC? We don't have anything to offer.) Of course, we have to NAME THE DARKNESS, at times- but one can't FIGHT darkness, per se- only LIGHT dispels darkness! So the Lord gave us through Morley a word similar to the one He is now giving us through Gail.
SAMPLE APPLICATION: I am grieved by the back covers of UC bulletins for Lent (as I was with the Advent ones.) I shall try not to rejoice over them- in pointing out the gaping hole left by a rejection of basic Christian theology re. the cross, the atonement- so that we have no good news for Lent. My little attempt to fill that hole is appended - a little leaflet I put together on the Cross, for UC lay people here in Nfld. It is SIMPLE- please don't scoff at it- but I think it is in SIMPLE language what Christians down through the centuries, of many denominations and races, have believed about the Cross. There are countless BOOKS for some to read on this subject- but most of our lay members won't read them. So, when the truth of the Atonement etc. is rejected, they often don't know or care.
As for example when theologians accuse God of being "vindictive" in "demanding that a price be paid for sin" - as they claim he is portrayed in the traditional Christian doctrine of the atonement.
(In case you don't use UC bulletins, thus far in Lent in the readings on the back cover, there is no MENTION of the Cross or the atonement etc. Only such things as asking forgiveness for "not seeing wonders", ""taking the earth for granted", "denying gifts").
The Advent back covers talked about being "hugged by glee", "embracing
the season of Light"- but no mention of God Incarnate coming to us in this
Babe. Now THERE are some holes for us to fill- with the Good News of
From: Gail Reid[SMTP:email@example.com]
Sent: March 16, 1998 9:50 AM
Subject: feedback on filling the holes
FILL THE HOLES
Here are some thoughts on this idea. It will take many of us to shape it and make it practical. It's important that we do not compromise our beliefs as we try to fill the holes.
COMMENTS BY JACK WALLER
There are a myriad of thoughts swirling in my head as I write.
I initially steered away from the study document, and yet at the same time was inexorably drawn to it. The mystique surrounding it peaked my curiosity, and I let my biases slip to a degree.
The first 2 sessions were not an happy experience, as the facilitator seemed unsure what role was to be assumed.
At the third session, one of our "unique" (I use that to describe an individual who is an enigma to me) participants spoke with such a depth of understanding, which was ignored, that we entered into a dialogue. This forced others to recognize that all voices need to be heard, and listened to with respect.
We have had a hiatus of several weeks, and will resume this Sunday. One of the central questions we face is the words "Whom do you say that I am?"
As a kaleidoscope projects divers images, we agree on one central thought, that Jesus was begotten of the Father before all worlds, and as Easter people, we have the assurance that we live beyond ourselves. There is a growing understanding of John 3:16 ff, and that there is for some of us, a correlation between Isaiah & Revelation. The excitement mounts, and the gift of the Holy Spirit is evident as we share together!
COMMENTS BY DAVID SHEARMAN
Gail, you have a good, strong image in "filling the holes".
Do you know anything about stuff called "Oakum"? It's creosote soaked rope fibres (aka hemp). We used it when I was a child to chink the holes in our log cottage. It kept the wind and the rain out and the warmth in.
Oakum was also used in wooden ships to repair cracks and holes in the planking. It was strong, didn't leak, and was flexible enough to move with the planks as opposed to against them. Remember the "good ship" United Church and stuff those cracks with oakum...
COMMENTS BY STEVE CLARKE:
I think you're on the right track. When you spoke of "filling the holes" it reminded me of a quotation from Dr. Neil Anderson:
"We are not called to dispel the darkness; we are called to shine the light."
All too often each of us falls in the trap of trying to squelch those things that our spirits tell us to be wrong, when actually all is needed is to speak truth into the situation. Once truth is spoken (and particularly when it is objectively seen to be clearly grounded in scripture), it usually has the effect of cutting abruptly through nonsense and silencing critics (or leaving them sputtering).
...So I would encourage you to give it all you've got. Pray that God's will might be done in your efforts -- that He might direct your words -- and then do everything you can from within your human strength to be faithful to instruction from His Word.
Praying for you that our Lord's truth will shine gloriously in your actions,
COMMENTS BY DAVID MORTON
Gail I think that your idea is stupendous.
I just finished awhile ago co-leading a session from that
with my Prsebytery. We went through the hymns and helped the people
discover how people's ideas of Jesus changed throughout the centuries as
we explored hymns from 3rd Century AD (All Glory Laud And Honour) to
late Twentieth Century with choruses like "Sine Jesus Shine" People
were struck by how they had never thought about the words of the hymns
I struggled at times when I presented the document to my congregation during advent because I knew the struggles I had while at Seminary. I see now your idea as a God-Send and will gladly borrow from your letter (if I may?) when I lead the final sections of that document with them this spring. I cannot express to you just how valuable your idea has been to me as I can see it being relevant to so many other applications, not only in writing, but in life and most especially in our prayers, devotionals and our walk with Christ.
For example, sometimes I struggle with having a daily devotion. I will use your idea to quit my procrastinating, whining and complaining, and simply fill that hole! When I chose to believe that God is not answering my prayers, because I want something He knows I'm not ready to receive or it is not in His will I will stop, and fill that hole of abysmal selfishness with praise and thanksgiving for what I do have and what has been given and confess my sins to Him, knowing He will give according to His will.
I realize that all this above may not be what you intended as fall out from your idea but I can certainly tell that your letter was a word from God that filled a hole that was in my life at this time.
Yours in Christ, David Morton (Oak River - Crandall Pastoral Charge, MB)
COMMENTS BY WAYNE WILSON
I like your idea about filling the holes in the "Reconciling and Making New" Document.
You mention " Everywhere I was reminded of Scripture verses, which could fill the holes. They do not lead to argument; instead they fleshed out who Jesus Christ is." This is absolutely essential to focus on scripture. The theological arguments, logic and reason we present will only go so far. However God's word can work wonders in the hearts of those who hear or read them.
Two weeks ago I was lead to do the sermons that Sunday on Jesus in the Old Testament. As a layman I simply reviewed the many scriptures that presented the coming Christ and what he would do. It was not as difficult to speak as I originally thought. In fact the two sermons were slightly different. Why? Because all I used were the scripture readings and God gave me the words to fill in between the readings. I spoke from the heart and there was no need to refer to notes (there weren't any).
I do not mean to boast, since it is by the grace of God he gave me the words to say, but it was very well received. Many, including some with an orthodox perspective, commented about the amazing number of OT scriptures dealing with Jesus. Of course the topic was just scratched. At this time of Lent one could go on a real tour of the OT scriptures.
Why should these OT scriptures be important? Because the psalms and prophets were written centuries before Christ. Frozen in time but given to us for an encouragement by a God who not only loves us but is truly sovereign and in control. The special One he would send would be the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.
There are LOTS of holes to fill and it would be of great benefit to the church to present them this information. How do we present it?
I can share the few references I used.
Perhaps others have things to share that will fill many holes in that document. Some holes I see are the Trinity, the Resurrection, the prophecies and their fulfillment, the types and shadows of Christ in the OT, answering "was he a mad man?" or "was he a con man?" the historical Jesus, answering the significance of what Jesus has done for us in comparison with any other religion or philosophy (Way, Truth, Life). Sounds like Apologetics 101.
When do we start?
From: Mark & Lorraine Fearnall[SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: March 26, 1998 12:25 AM
Subject: Some resources for "filling the holes"?
I just posted some work I did on Jesus' deity to my web site.
It can be found at www.iosphere.net/mfearnall/jesus'.htm
I hope some of you might find it useful.
From: Mark & Lorraine Fearnall[SMTP:email@example.com
Sent: March 21, 1998 1:23 PM
Subject: Some thoughts
I had written to Gail Reid with some thoughts about "filling the holes" and how we respond to various issues and thoughts floating around.
Below you will find some of my thoughts as well as Gail's response (which she gave permission to post).
I found our discussion helpful (especially her scriptural references)... we both hope others may find this discussion helpful as well.
Yours in Christ,
Sorry I didn't reply immediately but I have really been thinking (and praying and reading scripture) about this discussion around dealing with one another.
I still don't have a lot of solid answers but I do have some things to think about. After reading this tell me if you think it would be worthwhile posting to "uccanchat". I don't want to cause undue difficulties/anger/arguing.
First, to the question you asked Gail,
> I would like to ask a question that might help. What was the church
> like before? Was there a time when people could communicate different
> theological perspectives with respect and dignity? Can you remember
> this time? Are there others out there that can tell us about it?
There may be others who know better. My reading of church history indicates that there have always been problems in this area. Even in the NT church we see problems. Of course, sometimes the church has been too strong in its opposition and resorted to violence and a bad type of intolerance. That should never be a part of Christ's body.
How do we deal with it in our day-and-age? I am not exactly sure, but let me note some interesting (and possibly contradictory) things I see. The United Church claims to "accept" (using this in the liberal sense) many diverse beliefs. Thus we find Bill Phipps claiming that the resurrection is merely spiritual and that Jesus is not God. Yet my understanding is that we don't have any ecumenical work with the Jehovah's Witnesses (who hold to almost identical beliefs in this area). In fact most would claim, I suspect, that this is a cult and not a part of the Christian faith. Why can we be "unaccepting" of them and yet "accept" the teaching of Phipps and company?
I would love to hear how the liberal wing would answer this question, but it might be a question that we can put to ourselves (who do not hold the liberal agenda). If we are going to "respect" all views of the United Church are we also going to "respect" the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons etc.? Do we accept their teachings as Christian? If we don't, why and how can we accept the Moderator's teaching as Christian?
It does depend on what we mean by "accept". Here is the difference I see in my own life... I do not accept the teaching of Affirm as Christian. I do not accept their right to express this view in the church of Christ. I do accept their right to express this view outside of the church. Will I be mean to them? I hope and pray not! Will I boot them out? I don't have the power to do that in the currect ethos--nor do I personally want that power, and I am sure most are going "Thank God, he doesn't" :-)
Will I speak against their view? Absolutely! Will I say that this view is not Christian and not part of the body of Christ? Absolutely!
So, I am accepting of them in some ways. I hope to love them. But as part of that love I must speak strongly against their teaching within the church. That will be seen as some to be "unaccepting". From their perspective they are right.
Now the point (I think)... There is a different response, I believe, to Christians who are in a teaching position and those who are not. To those in Affirm and to the Moderator, I cannot and will not (unless shown by scripture and clear reasoning) accept their teaching as part of the Christian faith. My response (after attempting to discuss and correct--"filling the holes") is to no longer welcome them. But what about the "person in the pew"? Those who are not in teaching positions but who may hold to the same views as the Moderator? I think this is where your idea of "filling the holes" is great. It is a way to respond in love. A way to let the Word loose, and let God do God's work through the Word.
Maybe I am too hard on Affirm and the Moderator, but I honestly (in my heart and mind) do not believe so. There is no way (that I can see) that we should accept this teaching as Christian. There is no way to respect this teaching. I know I will be accused by some (and have been) of being unloving. But on what grounds do we, or can we, accept evil?
The question is, "When does acceptance stop?" The answer, from what I see, is "It doesn't". Yes, I believe we can and should see many of these people as "blind". But for those who teach I think we should and must correct strongly. They may be "blind" but they claim to know what love and acceptance is, and they are leading others in this direction.
I suppose this is my suggestion...
You are right, we need to "fill the holes" in all areas. However, when after attempting to "fill the holes" teachers continue to speak and teach that which is not of Christ, there may need to be a stronger statement--a response that many are going to think is "unacceptance" and "lack of respect" though I maintain that it isn't that. At the same time (and I know I have been guilty of this--may God forgive me) we shouldn't let our godly grief against this teaching affect our love and care for those we interact with in our congregations and communities. We may need to be "filling the holes" in one sphere, while rebuking in another sphere. After my wordy response, what do you think, Gail?
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Dear Mark (and web friends):
I agree with the paradox that you have so clearly presented. Our dilemma requires constant prayer and guidance by God's Spirit, before we can know how to behave. And unfortunately, He never works in the same way so we can't just learn it all and copy it the next time.
So with that in mind, I believe we are left with your final statement: "We need to be filling the holes in one sphere, while rebuking in another sphere." Though I would disagree that it is related to "positions" such as clergy and lay rather than ideas.
Yes it makes me more angry when I know clergy have that position of authority and responsibility and are leading people astray. But it is God who will judge them on this.
I believe we are called to respect the position of Moderator and clergy as God's annointed. We may not feel any respect for him or her, and he/she may not deserve it. Nevertheless we are called to honour them in both the old and new testaments.
David does not kill King Saul when he has the opportunity because he is God's annointed (placed in that position by God it is God that is to raise us up not we ourselves) Yet David challenges how Saul has been treating him. In the same way, Paul in the new testament apologizes for his sarcasm when he discovers he has been addressing the high priest. Acts 23:1-5 see also Ex 22:28.
This does not mean we cannot disagree with them and be clear about why. But to go the step further and deman them or reject them--I'm not sure if this is right in view of these scriptures--though I stand to be corrected.
My insight into filling the holes though was--do not focus on the glaring holes but fill them. It does not mean we don't point them out and recognize them for what they are. But surely if we spend all our energy and time just on this, we will never fill them either.
I think this is helping me sort things out. Let's continue to discuss it. What do you think?
From: Carole Burton[SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: March 17, 1998 3:40 AM
Subject: Re: Book display and acceptance of beliefs.
What Gail is saying to us is so right- re. the need for us to be
Christ-like in our ATTITUDES toward those who oppose our beliefs, and
as we express our beliefs- as well as concentrating on "filling the
holes" rather than ONLY pointing out the holes.
But Mark has made an important point in the following: (3/15/98 15:18)
> Let me explain this from what Gail wrote and where my concerns come in.
> "Is it possible to ignore commenting on the gapping holes and hold up a
> vision of diversity that would indeed accept our sacred beliefs as well
> as everyone else's?"
Perhaps I am wrong (or just simply misunderstand), but I don't think this is possible in many circumstances. To "hold up a vision of diversity" that would accept everyone's beliefs is, I submit, going beyond the teaching of the scriptures in matters of apostasy and the like. It is for Bill Phipps and the postmoderns to "hold up a vision of diversity," not the church (the gathering of believers).
And yet, Mark, we do need to learn how to live together in this church- like we did before 1988! We can't make everyone in the UC accept our conservative views. The most we can ask is that the ultra-liberals etc. would stop trying to drive us out -? Is that what Gail means by "a vision of diversity"? Not *compromise.* The only other possibility is for US to drive THEM out! - if we say we won't live with diversity. Not that we would ACCEPT ultra-liberalism- we would continue to work to bring others in the UC to a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ.